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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Picks Fight with Corker
      •  Pence Stages a Little Political Theater
      •  White House Publishes List of Immigration Demands
      •  Starr Predicts Indictments
      •  Bannon's List of Targets Is Expanding
      •  Roberts Has Some Interesting Thoughts About Gerrymandering
      •  Culture Wars, for Fun and Profit

Trump Picks Fight with Corker

Earlier this week, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) offered up a few thinly-veiled criticisms of President Donald Trump. The President, of course, is simply unable to let such slights pass. So, he took to Twitter Sunday morning to launch his counteroffensive:

It's not easy to squeeze that much dubiousness into 420 characters. First, while it's true that Corker is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and that he allowed the Iran nuclear treaty to move forward with a simple majority vote, he's not "largely responsible" for the pact. Beyond that, while it is the case that some senators wanted Corker to lead the State department, there's no evidence he himself lobbied for the job. Further, Corker has run for election, and for re-election, so he does not seem to lack "guts." And, most importantly, the claim that Corker begged for Trump's endorsement and then dropped out when he did not get it does not pass the smell test: A sitting senator with a 52% approval rating does not desperately need the endorsement of a president with a 32% approval rating. Further, in contrast to the other slams embedded in the tweets, this one is easily disproven. It took mere minutes for Washington insiders, who were familiar with the conversations between Trump and Corker, to tell CNN that the truth of the matter is that Trump repeatedly asked Corker to run again, and was rebuffed. There was no begging.

Whenever Trump pulls stunts like this, whether with Corker or one of his other Senate colleagues, or with whatever news outlet the President is angry with, or with the "Rocket Man," or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, or whomever, everyone—us included—tries very hard to discover whatever method there might be behind the madness. But there is no method here—it's pure madness. Corker may be retiring, but he is still going to be a U.S. Senator for another 15 months or so. Trump, who apparently struggles to count to 51 when he's throwing a temper tantrum, cannot afford to alienate anyone in his caucus as he searches for those elusive "wins" that have not been forthcoming. Corker is not a maverick like John McCain (R-AZ) or a moderate like Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) or Susan Collins (R-ME). He's a real, dyed-in-the-wool conservative. His vote should be almost automatic for Trump, and now it is not.

And if there is any doubt that Corker heard what Trump had to say, and is not happy about it, well, the Senator also has a Twitter account:

In case anyone did not grasp Corker's meaning, he also spoke to the New York Times late Sunday, and said that Trump acts "like he's doing 'The Apprentice' or something," and that the President's recklessness could "set us on the path to World War III."

And it's not just Corker's pique that should worry Trump. The Senate is a pretty close-knit fraternity, and there are undoubtedly other members who are irked on Corker's behalf, and who are also well aware that they could become the next Twitter target. A Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for example, or an Orrin Hatch (R-UT), or a Chuck Grassley (R-IA), or a Roger Wicker (R-MS). And that doesn't include the long list of Republican senators whom Trump has already attacked at one point or another, like Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Dean Heller (R-NV), McCain, and Murkowski. Trump may want to do a little quick math, and note that it takes only 19 Republicans to join with the 48 Democrats to reach the 67 needed to override a veto, convict after an impeachment. (Z)

Pence Stages a Little Political Theater

Vice President Mike Pence decided to take in an NFL game on Sunday, and so was front and center as the San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts prepared to face off. But then, it came time for the national anthem, and more than a dozen members of the 49ers took a knee. An "outraged" Pence stormed out of the stadium, declaring that he could not be part of anything that disrespects the flag or the anthem.

There is some irony in Pence using the national anthem to protest individuals who dare use the anthem to protest. One could also argue that making a big, noisy show of leaving the stadium immediately after the anthem—in effect, using the anthem as a prop—is more disrespectful to the flag than silently taking a knee during. But the most obvious question is this: Has Mike Pence been living under a rock for the last year or so? The player who got the kneeling started, Colin Kaepernick, was a 49er at the time (he's now a free agent, thanks largely to his protesting). The team has been, along with the Seahawks, the most overt kneelers since Donald Trump decided to take potshots at the NFL. Last week, at least 30 49ers chose to kneel during the anthem. The point is: It was 100% guaranteed that, at a Colts-49ers game, some players would be kneeling. Did Pence not know this?

The answer is: of course he did. The whole performance was carefully scripted, so as to allow the Veep to make a public spectacle of his patriotism and his opposition to those troublemaking, spoiled, loudmouthed black, athletes. If there is any doubt that this was all staged, it should be laid to rest by two facts. The first is that the pool reporters assigned to the VP were told to remain outside the stadium, "just in case" Pence decided to leave early. The second is that within minutes of the VP's departure, his office released a statement on the matter, and there were laudatory tweets posted to his account, along with those of the President, the President's sons, and several other members of Team Trump:

Who knows how much it costs to transport the Vice President and his wife to a football game and to provide security for both of them? But it's gotta be within range of the $1 million that got Tom Price fired. The question is, what's the bigger waste of the taxpayers' money: A bunch of unnecessary chartered flights, or two minutes of the clumsiest political grandstanding the country has ever seen? (Z)

White House Publishes List of Immigration Demands

On Sunday night, the White House released its list of "requirements" for a deal on immigration, and it's a doozy. In fact, it pretty much reads like Steve Bannon's Christmas list. The seven-page, single-spaced document calls for funding for a border wall, an end to sanctuary cities, much greater limits on visas, greater detention powers for the federal government, and two dozen other changes to immigration policy that may or may not reduce illegal immigration, but would substantially reduce the flow of legal immigrants. In short, the document has Stephen Miller's fingerprints all over it.

If the Trump administration is serious about this document, and digs its heels in on these various points, then it means two things: (1) Trump has welched on his initial agreement, which specifically excluded a border wall, and (2) There will be no deal. Just the wall itself is a deal-breaker for the Democrats, as are at least half a dozen of the other "demands" in the document. If this list is just a starting point for negotiations, then maybe there's still room to maneuver. However, with Stephen Miller leading the administration's bargaining team, and with right-wing websites already drooling over what they're reading, it seems unlikely that the administration is going to compromise much, if at all. (Z)

Starr Predicts Indictments

Ken Starr knows a little something about investigating presidents, having spent years hounding Bill Clinton. You might even say he's the nation's foremost authority on the subject, since most of the key players in the Watergate investigation are now dead. So, his word carries a little weight in this area. On Saturday, he sat for an interview with CNN, and predicted confidently that indictments were coming, and that with them would be guilty pleas and exchanges of testimony for leniency.

Nothing here is particularly earth-shattering. Anyone who has been watching the situation unfold, including us, has been predicting as much for months. Indeed, numerous sources have reported that Paul Manafort was already told point blank that an indictment is coming. Still, it is helpful to have confirmation from an expert. Starr did add something a bit novel to the mix as well, offering his opinion that indicting the president himself is absolutely allowed by the Constitution. That particular point has been hotly debated; it is at least somewhat meaningful that the guy who knows the subject better than anyone comes down on that side of the question. (Z)

Bannon's List of Targets Is Expanding

Steve Bannon is feeling pretty good about himself after helping propel Roy Moore to a victory over Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) last month. He would like his fingerprints, and those of Breitbart, to be on as many Senate races as possible. Unfortunately for Bannon, 2018 is not a great year for that, since there are so many Democrats up for re-election and so few Republicans. Fortunately for him, he's more than willing to tilt at windmills. Consequently, the list of races that will receive serious Breitbart attention (and, very likely, Robert Mercer money) just keeps getting longer.

Bannon had already made clear his intention to take on incumbent Republicans Jeff Flake, Dean Heller, and Roger Wicker. Those are the two Republicans who are actually vulnerable next year, plus Roger Wicker. Newly-added targets include John Barrasso (R-WY), Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Orrin Hatch. The Breitbart publisher is also looking to get involved in GOP primaries in West Virginia and Missouri.

There is no question that Bannon helped Donald Trump get elected (by the barest of margins), but his reputation as a James Carville- or Karl Rove-style political genius has been overstated (mostly by Bannon himself). After all, he achieved exactly zero while sitting 10 feet from the Oval Office. And while there may be a few states where a Roy Moore could actually get elected, they are fairly small in number. If Bannon has actually persuaded himself that he can replicate that success in states that aren't quite so red as Alabama, then the corpses of all those Tea Party Senate candidates who lost otherwise slam dunk races for the GOP would beg to differ. If Bannon insists on mucking things up in Nebraska, Missouri, West Virginia, Nevada, and Arizona, then all he will do is help the Democrats to possibly retake the Senate. That, presumably, is not what the Breitbart crowd is looking for. (Z)

Roberts Has Some Interesting Thoughts About Gerrymandering

There is an argument to be made that Gill v. Whitford is the most important case to be before the Supreme Court in a decade (or more). The suit, brought by a group of Wisconsinites in opposition to their highly-gerrymandered legislative districts, affords the Court an opportunity to declare political gerrymanders to be illegal and, perhaps even more importantly, offers them a way to define exactly what an unacceptable gerrymander looks like.

Chief Justice John Roberts, as a Republican, is not terribly likely to rule for the plaintiffs. And in case there was any question about that, his remarks during oral arguments should leave no doubt. Describing the whole discussion over political gerrymanders as "sociological gobbledygook," Roberts said that it is important for him to protect the Court's integrity (which is true). He further asserted that nobody would be able to understand his ruling if he supported the plaintiffs, and that people would automatically conclude the Court was becoming involved in politics. So, in the interests of preserving the Court's image, the Chief Justice feels he has no choice but to support the defendants.

This is a pretty remarkable argument for America's highest-ranking jurist to make. In essence, he is saying the Court cannot strike down the gerrymander because the American people are too stupid to understand the argument for doing so, and he doesn't want the Court's image to suffer as a result of their ignorance. We would argue that (1) He is underestimating the American people, (2) As important as the Court's image and integrity may be, the integrity of the democracy is of greater importance, and (3) He's full of it. Roberts is just casting about for excuses to justify his personal preference that the gerrymander remain intact. Fortunately for those who dislike the gerrymander, or those who just want to see the Court base its decisions on—you know—the actual legal issues involved, it is not Roberts whose vote will be decisive. It is the vote of Anthony Kennedy, a.k.a. "The most powerful man in America." (Z)

Culture Wars, for Fun and Profit

Today is Columbus Day. You may not have been aware of that fact, because the once-important holiday now has roughly the same significance of Arbor Day or International Talk Like a Pirate Day. One person who is aware of it, however, is Donald Trump (presumably because someone told him). And Trump never misses an opportunity to stir up the base, or to make a quick buck.

To start, Trump issued a proclamation last week celebrating Christopher Columbus, a "skilled navigator and man of faith, whose courageous feat brought together continents and has inspired countless others to pursue their dreams and convictions." He's also the first great Italian American, apparently, despite the fact that neither of those nations existed in Columbus's time. Issuing a proclamation itself is not remarkable; Barack Obama did the same each year. However, Obama's proclamations also made certain to note that Columbus's successes came with a heavy price, paid by both Native Americans and—eventually—black slaves. In Trump's telling, Columbus' legacy was all sunshine and rainbows (and spaghetti).

That's not all, however. Trump also sent an e-mail to supporters worrying about how "leftists push harder and harder to erase our nation's past" and "America's past is being vilified and stripped away by liberals in the media and our schools." How might a concerned individual fight back against this insidious pinko plot? Easy! Just buy some merch from Donald Trump. In honor of the holiday, "Make America Great Again" hats are 25% off. Just don't tell anyone that Columbus never heard of America, and went to his grave believing he had merely visited the far eastern reaches of the Indian subcontinent. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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